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BABTOO AND THE LEGEND OF THE SPOTTED ZEBRA
By J. D. KIBLER
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 J. D. Kibler
All rights reserved.
The story begins with the worst drought in fifty years. The once succulent grass had slowly lost all color, turning from a pale green to a crisp brown. Village crops dried out and withered to blackened husks. They stood as scorched reminders of past famine and hardship instead of becoming plentiful harvests. Foraging for nuts, berries and roots became increasingly difficult. Dust filled the air, choking all color from the horizon and leaving a hazy mirage of the once picturesque landscape. Small tree leaves hung withered and limp, rustling listlessly in the stagnant air.
Only the strong, leafy domes of the giant Baobab trees, with their deep penetrating roots, were still green and able to withstand the oppressive heat, which gave some shady refuge to weary animals and natives. Like a mother welcoming home orphans, the large branches became home to prey and predator alike.
The drought had taken its toll on the Watinkee tribesmen. Food and water became scarce as they and other nomadic tribes moved even more frequently to provide for their clans. Many of the old and very young had already perished. The remaining people struggled desperately to sustain themselves on the open savanna, praying for relief and rain. The fight for survival was particularly devastating for a young warrior with his wife and child.
* * *
A fat termite on the well-worn path to the once majestic monkey-bread tree suddenly stopped, waving its antennae in a whirl of motion as if sensing impending doom. With a shake of its blind head, it hurried along with the rest of the colony to its home inside the tree.
The ancient monkey-bread tree stood as a lone sentinel in the middle of a desolate petrified forest. A century ago, it had been alive with life and home to generations of birds, butterflies, and monkeys. It had provided shelter to countless herds of antelope, gazelle, and the occasional tribesmen.
Today, the tree was only a shell of the majesty and beauty it had once been. The bark had long since peeled off, exposing long used highways for termites and other insects. The old tree's limbs were crooked and bent, rising toward the sky in a silent prayer for rain. At the base of the tree, scattered like small children, dry saplings also struggled for life in the drought. As if in answer to the prayer, black clouds were forming across the heat-oppressed plains, blocking out the stifling heat of the day.
Thunder rumbled in dark clouds that rolled swiftly across the sky, anxious to release their pent up power. Tentacles of lightening snaked through the evening sky, revealing the moving silhouettes of animals desperately searching for shelter from the impending storm. The jagged flashes of light in the darkening sky seemed to search for unwary targets, constantly probing the earth.
A lone branch on the monkey-bread tree seemingly reached out and grabbed at an elusive bolt of lightning. Electricity crackled and charged the air as the limb exploded, sounding as if a thousand thundering drums were beating at once. Sparks flew from the branch and ignited the dry kindling and saplings around the tree. The once proud tree became a funeral pyre as its branches waved in the air frantically. Smoke and ash filled the sky as the fire burned everything it touched and spread quickly into the savanna.
Thick black smoke rolled ahead of the raging fire, sometimes shifting directions at a moment's notice or the slightest change in wind direction. Animals scattered, not knowing how to escape the tongues of living flame. Desperately trying to outrun the intense heat of the blaze, gazelles and wildebeests ran with their mortal enemies the lions, hyenas, and cheetahs.
Already fighting nearly impossible odds, many of the savanna tribes faced certain demise. The all-encompassing inferno gave little clue as to where they could safely hide. Scattering into the night, people separated and became lost from one another in the ensuing chaos.
Darkness covered the sky as the heavy rain-filled clouds blotted out the sun, turning the oppressive heat of the day into a choking humid night. Thunder rumbled like a huge hungry belly as the clouds suddenly burst, releasing torrents of rain.
The flames battled the thunderstorm and like two titans fought for supremacy over the savanna. The resounding thunder competed with the roar of the blaze as the clash for dominance raged on. After what seemed like days, but was actually only a matter of a few hours, the rain finally subdued the fire. Small sheltered areas hidden from the storm contained embers that sent out envoys of blackened cinders that sizzled and popped, only to fall back to the damp earth, smothered and quiet.
The following morning the sun struggled to chase the remnants of the storm away. As it slowly rose above the horizon, it burned away the remaining black clouds revealing the devastation left by the rampaging fire. Pockets of steam and smoke rose like wraiths in the air, only to disappear as the sun quickly dried all remaining moisture from the soil. Blackened husks of what once were proud animals that had been just a step too slow, lay in poses of heartbreaking death.
The once picturesque landscape, now a barren desert, held the shocked remains of people and animals struggling to survive the devastation. Dusk finally cooled the savanna as the sun's rays lost their fury for the day, bringing some relief. Stars were beginning to appear like bright jewels on the empty canvas of the sky and for a moment, brought hope for the future. Then, as if in mockery to the struggles below, thin wispy clouds scuttled across the night sky, draping the moon and stars in a mosaic pattern of light and dark. Moments of hope faded when the light gave way to darkness, giving the savanna an eerie, forlorn feeling of despair.
The scattered moonlight gave barely enough illumination for the retreating man and woman to see as they wearily made their way across the plain. The woman stumbled and struggled to keep her balance as she clutched a small child in her arms. The child, unaware of their plight, cooed softly in his mother's embrace.
The tall dark man, accompanied by the young woman with unusually white hair, helped her to move forward, gently taking her arm. They were alone and desperate to find friends, family or any other survivors from other tribes. If their enemies or predators caught them in the open savanna, it would invite injury or death, even for an experienced warrior, as he was. Exhausted, they staggered toward a huge tree standing in the distance. The women had wrapped the child in soft leopard skin with an eagle feather by his head, as if he was a prince of a tribe.
The child, weary and hungry, whimpered only slightly as he gazed into his mother's eyes. She lovingly caressed his cheek, trying to comfort the small child. Looking up, she peered into the darkness fearfully, searching for any sign of movement.
The man, spent and bleeding, stood defiant. He proudly carried the only weapon he had used to defend his family. The spear stood six feet tall, topped by a long sharp metal tip stained red with blood.
The previous night, a group of hyenas had attacked the couple at their camp. Though suffering from serious wounds, they managed to escape with their lives. Fatigued from pain and loss of blood, they desperately hoped to find a safe place to rest for the night. Feeling as though they played a cat and mouse game, they had the uncanny feeling of an unseen foe stalking them.
Suddenly, sounds like hysterical laughing split the night air. The relentless hyenas had pursued and finally found them once again. The man quickly turned, his eyes scanning the dark horizon for movement. With a quiet word to his wife and a loving touch to her hand, they turned and hobbled hurriedly toward the protection of the giant tree.
Huge ragged heads with red, unblinking eyes and massive slathering jaws parted the tall grass and sniffed the night air hungrily. Low growls and mewling noises from parched throats and skeletal corpse-like bodies filled the air. Spotting their quarry moving toward a tree, the hyenas quickly fanned out for the ambush.
Out of breath and barely able to stand, the warrior and his wife turned to face the emerging beasts. The woman turned and ran desperately to reach the tall tree and placed the infant onto a large branch that jutted out like an island. High enough to be out of the reach of the ravenous hyenas, she lashed the baby to the branch. Her hand then reached for the small knife she carried at her hip.
The hyenas attacked without warning. Screams and growls filled the night air as they leaped toward their quarry. The man, possessed as if by demons, thrust and slashed at the oncoming horde. Blood spilled on the thirsty ground making their footing wet and slippery.
A beast attacked from behind as if sensing a frontal attack was certain death. The man spun around to meet this new threat, but tripped over the body of a wounded hyena as it snapped at his legs. The woman lunged with her knife and quickly put an end to its savage life. She looked up into the night for her husband and watched as he drew the starving animals further from her. He desperately fought on, a lone hero only the gods would witness. She loved her husband and could not let him fight this lopsided battle alone.
Too many to fight, he soon became overwhelmed. He tripped and fell to the ground and became instantly mobbed by the vicious animals. A particularly nasty beast latched onto his back, pinning him to the ground. With an insane scream of desperation, the woman threw herself into the fray, stabbing and biting like a wild thing, only in the end to succumb to the uneven battle. The sounds of the fight diminished as the beasts slowly slunk off into the night.
The cool night air turned into a hot humid morning. A lone hyena returned to the tree looking for food from last night's battle. An interesting scent caught his keen senses. His dry, cracked black nose twitched back and forth testing the light gust of wind leading him to the large tree. The sound of a crying baby caught his sizable ears as he looked up toward the large branch.
Pacing back and forth with eager anticipation, he leapt for the blanket in the tree. Barely catching the corner, he exposed a small leg. With the second leap, the snapping jaws closed on the dangling leg, ripping the flesh to the bone. The baby screamed in agony as the branch shook from the force of the impact. Tasting blood excited the hyena. Running in circles under the tree to gain some momentum, he gathered his legs underneath him for the final leap.
The hyena's full attention was on the defenseless child and he did not notice the Watinkee warriors running toward the tree. As his jaws started to close on the small dangling foot, the spear found its mark in his chest. The hyena felt a blast of pain before he fell to the ground, narrowly missing the exposed leg. His breathing came in gasps as he snapped at the massive spear embedded in his chest. As his eyes dimmed, a Watinkee warrior placed his foot on his head and yanked the spear from his body.
Reaching up, the warrior carefully dislodged the small infant from the branch. Strange, he thought, as he looked into the eyes of the infant that were as grey as the clouds in the sky and with hair as white as an old man's beard.
Dread rippled through the band of warriors as they searched for signs of his mother and father. They saw from the tracks and half-eaten corpses of some of the hyena that a great battle had taken place. A few hundred yards away the gristly remains of the two proud warriors lay together. Scattered around them like leaves in a forest, were several dead hyenas. Beside the warriors was a spear of great artisanship with a golden eagle feather attached to it. This they took to give to the boy when he grew up as a reminder of how his parents sacrificed their lives for him.
The Perfect Storm
Eighteen years later a cargo ship with four large triangular sails was heading around the coast of Africa. The captain was a small, rotund man with eyes the color of jade and bright red hair that hung to his shoulders. His long flowing beard, streaked with grey and braided into two strands, tucked into his belt that held a ponderous belly.
He frowned at what he saw as his teeth ground into the small tobacco pipe, furiously puffing the dark red ember. Smoke circled his head clinging to his brow like a fluffy hat before disappearing into the air.
His bright green eyes gazed across the ocean at large rolling black clouds that grew and swelled with every passing moment. The large rectangular sails flapped listlessly against the masts. The still ocean, unusually calm, spelled trouble.
In the cargo bay was the treasure the captain was trying to protect. A stallion with unusual large spots marking his body kicked at the stall, as if sensing the impending storm. A mare and her 3-year-old colt whinnied excitedly, aware of the stallion's uneasiness.
The King of Spain had given Captain Morgan the task of transporting the highly prized stallion, mare and her colt around the Cape of Good Hope to South Africa. The horses were a gift to the governor of the colony.
A raindrop splashed on Captain Morgan's bulbous red nose. At that moment, he awoke from his reverie. The wind howled from the heavens and seemed to assail him from all directions at once. Tearing his hat from his head and flinging his ruffled shirt wide open, the gale pummeled his burly chest and portly stomach like a boxer in a ring.
Captain Morgan pointed a stubby finger at the first mate, yelling at the top of his lungs, "Man the sails! Turn to starboard! ALL HANDS ON DECK!" The wind tore the words from his mouth and they were almost lost in the torrent of rain and thunder.
The swarthy man standing next to him, terrified at the suddenness of the storm, turned to relay the orders to the crew. At that moment, a giant wave crashed into the ship and like a giant fist drove the man into the mast with the force of a hammer on an anvil. Like grasping fingers the wave swirled and receded, slowly dragging his lifeless, broken body overboard to disappear forever into the dark depths.
The crew scrambled out of their quarters, rushing to their assigned tasks. All were experienced crewmen and they knew this was no ordinary storm. Praying to their pagan gods, they worked side by side to steady the tossing ship and knew that it would take extraordinary effort and all of their skills. Struggling against the wrath of the storm, each man desperately tried to do the work of two. The deafening noise of the thunder drowned out their frantic screams of terror. Jagged streaks of lightening lit up the sky for only fractions of an instant, but were enough for the men to see fear clearly etched on each of their faces.
The second mate clutched the wheel of the ship with a vise-like grip as wave after wave of salt water pounded over him. He fought desperately to keep the ship upright. His strength was waning and his muscles became rigid with fatigue. He slowly began to lose the battle with the storm as his fingers loosened and slid off the wheel.
The captain grabbed a skinny man with terror-filled eyes and a wispy beard plastered to his pointed chin. Grimacing against the onslaught, Captain Morgan's two front gold teeth reflected the man's fear as he bellowed, "Get down to the hold. Throw out anything of weight that we don't need. Go now. Hurry! Take whoever you can find to help!"
The man screamed at two stalwart men as he headed toward the hold. Working furiously, they tied down the main mast with ropes already slick with blood from their frantic hands. The three crewmembers staggered through the swinging doors like drunken sailors after a night of revelry. Stumbling down the stairs, the three men were tossed about like rag dolls while fighting the listing ship.
The horses, mad with terror, shrieked ear-piercing squeals, kicking their stalls to break free. The ship groaned and creaked, testing the strength of the seams and rivets. Muscles strained with desperate urgency as the men dragged crate after crate through the hold and unceremoniously tossed them in the churning ocean. Water cascaded and funneled down the slippery steps making the work harder still. The ankle-deep water rose quickly around their legs in frothy swirls threatening to drown the exhausted crewmen.
The ocean tossed the ship around like a cork in a bottle. Wind whistled through portholes, sounding like drowning seamen screaming defiant curses. Bolts of lightning split the sky in a jagged cadence around the ship. The masts rocked back and forth, straining to stay upright, dodging the electrically charged blue streaks that seemed to get closer with every strike.
Captain Morgan glared fiercely into the face of the storm. Rain pelted his heaving chest and winds tore at his body, trying to dislodge him from his perch on the deck. He raised a beefy, scarred fist and shook it furiously to the heavens.
Excerpted from BABTOO AND THE LEGEND OF THE SPOTTED ZEBRA by J. D. KIBLER. Copyright © 2013 J. D. Kibler. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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